Monday, August 1, 2011

Basil Pesto (For the Freezer)

If you knew me or my family growing up, you know that my dad is something of a gardening prodigy. Or a lunatic.  I'm not sure which (though I'd lean towards the former).  We were the people that had something like a half-acre in our back-yard converted to gardening space, and whatever he tried to grow seemed to turn out way better than anything that was available in the supermarket, even when it was in season.  Yup, we were the people that had signs like 'Fresh Cukes' or 'Giant Pumpkins' tacked up along Main Street, which brought a wealth of customers (some more welcome than others) by the house to buy fresh produce.

Fast forward 15 years.  Now, as my family grows older, I realize that I'd really like to take up some of the old family traditions so that I can pass them on to our children one day.  So Jess and I tried gardening last year.  We found out a few things.  First, don't buy pepper plants once they've already set their roots down in the pots; they won't be worth crap the rest of the year.  Second, butternut squash will take over the entire small garden plot...and your yard...and they have eyes on the neighbors yard as well.  This year, we bricked up our small garden, and made it look nice.  We went simple this year: basil, cilantro, and hot peppers (attempt #2).  Unfortunately, both Jess and I are so crazy busy, we haven't had time to take care of the garden like we should (I forgot how much time my dad had to put into his garden to get things to come out just right). Let's just say that we're now cultivating coriander instead of cilantro, and we made the same mistake with the peppers that we did last year.  Ugh.

The one thing that did well was the basil.  A little too well, in fact.  We've got basil taking over our garden.  So what to do with it?

We decided we wanted to make pesto, but we wanted to be able to save it.  My wife, being awesome like she is, found a number of recipes online, and figured out a way to freeze our fresh pesto so (1) we could use a lot more of the basil without getting sick of pesto and (2) have pesto for the long run.  After working on this for awhile, and throwing together some recipes from difference sources, we came up with the following:

  • 3 c. fresh basil leaves, rinse and dried
  • 3/4 c. extra virgin olive oil (use the best you have, but don't break the bank)
  • 1/2 c. chopped walnuts (pine nuts are way expensive, and we love walnuts)
  • 3-4 tsp. crushed garlic 
As we said, we're making this for the freezer.  You begin with placing the basil leaves, walnuts (roughly chopped already) and garlic in a small food processor.  Pulse/whir those ingredients together until they're well mixed, scraping down the sides of the food processor as you go.  Then, drizzle in the olive oil slowly, while you continue to blend.  Blend until the mixture is fairly uniform in texture.  Here's the cool part.  Take a measuring spoon and spoon out the pesto into a regular ice-cube tray.  This amount should just about fill (we had two slots left empty) one tray.  Freeze for at least a day, and then place into a freezer-proof bag and date.

You'll notice, I'm sure, that something is missing.  What about the cheese?  The freezer recipes we found said not to add the cheese until you thaw out the pesto for use.  What we plan to try is adding 1 tbsp. of freshly-grated Parmiagiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano for each cube.  

What will we use these for?  We figure we can throw them (after thawing) into pasta, or add to cream to make a pesto-cream sauce.  You could use it on bruschetta or as a dipping sauce for bread.  There's all kinds of things you can do with them really.  We haven't tried this in anything yet; we'll let you know how it tastes when we do!

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